Summary: What part does God play in our becoming Christians? Is it all our decision, or does God influence us somehow?
OPEN: A young man asked an old rich man how he made his money. The old guy fingered his worsted wool vest and said,
"Well, son, it was 1932, the depth of the Great Depression. I was down to my last nickel. I invested that nickel in an apple. I spent the entire day polishing the apple and, at the end of the day, I sold the apple for ten cents.
The next morning, I invested those ten cents in two apples. I spent the entire day polishing them and sold them at 5:00 PM for 20 cents. I continued this system for a month, by the end of which I’d accumulated a fortune of $3.50.
Then my wife’s father died and left us ten million dollars."
APPLY: There’s a lot to be said for hard work and perseverance, but in this man’s case his wealth had less to do with own character than with the generosity of his wife’s father.
About 250 years ago, John Newton composed one of the most popular songs ever written. It’s called Amazing Grace. Sing that first verse with me again:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found, I was blind but now I see”
(repeat) “I once was lost… but now I’m found”
In that phrase, John Newton was referring to some Biblical stories Jesus told and he was using those stories to explain his own conversion experience.
In the book of Luke, chap15, Jesus told the stories of three people who’d lost something valuable
A shepherd lost one of sheep that had wandered away
A woman lost a coin from her dowry
And a man lost his son – the prodigal son…who gave up his home/family for bright lights and loose living.
Each story told of the anguish these people had experienced in having lost something of value AND each story ended with a peculiar phrase…
The shepherd says ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep’ Lk 15:6
The woman says ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin’ Lk 15:9
And the Father of the prodigal son says “we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’" Luke 15:32
The sheep, the coin and the son – they had all been lost… but now all were found. And Jesus was using these stories to tell about how God seeks and saves the lost.
But there is an “oddity” about these stories… one significant difference between the three that stands out to me.
* The shepherd loses the sheep - and what does he do?
He leaves the 90 & 9 and goes in search of the one that wandered away
* The woman loses one of her 10 coins – what does she do?
She vigorously sweeps & searches through every room until she finds that coin
* A father loses one of his sons – what does he do?
…(pause) He sits home and wait for his son to come to his senses and come home.
In two of those three stories, God is shown as searching for that which was lost.
BUT in the 3rd story… God is shown as waiting on the porch eagerly watching for the moment his wayward son changes his mind.
Theologians – down thru the ages – have struggled with this question of how much influence or choice people have in their salvation. Certain theologians have even gone so far as to say that we have NO choice in our salvation. God does it all. He chooses who will be saved and who will go to hell… and we don’t have a say in the matter.
Now, if Jesus had only told the stories about the good shepherd and the woman with the 10 coins you might actually believe that. I mean, the sheep didn’t have any choice in whether it was returned to the flock, and the coin didn’t get to vote on whether the woman picked it up off the dirt floor. Thus, if those were the only stories told by Jesus, you might come to believe that we play no role in our salvation. God seeks us and picks us up and like the sheep and the coin we’d have little choice in the matter.
But then Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son… and the Father sits at home
The prodigal son returns because he decided to.
If that had been only story Jesus had told about being lost and found you might come to believe that your salvation all depends upon you.
But Jesus told ALL THREE stories so that we’d realize that
1. God IS actively involved… in seeking you for salvation